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Chinese trolls have been harassing news outlets like the BBC and The Wall Street Journal, stoking tensions for Taiwan and helping Iranian trolls spread misinformation about California leaving the US, according to a new report.
In April, the trolls allegedly tried to bolster a claim made by World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that he was subjected to online racism by Taiwan’s government.
They’ve also reportedly backed activity from Iran-based trolls trying to spread information about California seeking to leave the US.
Political scientist Maria Repnikova told the Sydney Morning Herald: “As Chinese citizens (including overseas Chinese students) have become increasingly nationalistic, this movement has taken on a shape of its own. And that’s going to be something for the international community to reckon with in the years to come.”
A network of bloggers in China have been attacking news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and the BBC, and trying to increase international political tensions for Taiwan, according to a new report.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released a report on April 23 about trolls from China, who don’t appear to be linked to the government, which said although Chinese trolling is not new: “the main campaign appears to have picked up steam around mid-March as a loose network of Twitter accounts designed to mimic and harass Western media.”
According to the report by ASPI researchers Elise Thomas and Albert Zhang, an analysis of the words used by the trolls found that the accounts were made by people who spoke mainland Chinese.
The trolls appear to have made accounts that looked like the Chinese-language versions of outlets including The Journal and the BBC, and the report said it was unlikely the accounts were “genuinely attempting to fool anyone; instead, the goal appears to be to troll and irritate Western media outlets and possibly to confuse readers.”
The report also claimed that it was unlikely to be a coincidence “that this coordinated harassment of Western media organisations took off within days of the decision by China to expel journalists from three US newspapers.”
China expelled three journalists from The Journal after the newspaper published an op-ed titled:” China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” which the Chinese government said was racist.
Another activity the trolls were believed to be behind was trying to bolster a claim made by World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who said that he was subjected to online racism by Taiwan’s government on April 9. About 65 troll accounts retweeted “apologies” as they tried to keep the story alive and stir more tension.
The report claimed the Chinese trolls didn’t stick to national issues. Since April, the report said they’ve also backed activity coming from Iran, which supports an outsized claim of California seeking independence from the US. The trolls have allegedly created their own “pro-Californian-independence content,” and posed as Taiwanese users.
The point of this was probably to try hurt the relationship between the US and Taiwan, the report said.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, these sorts of Twitter impersonations were “pioneered by Reddit users and exploited by Russian trolls,” but the latest developments show how pro-China propaganda has developed in recent times.
Maria Repnikova, a political scientist at Georgia State University, told the Sydney Morning Herald the trolling was: “bottom-up cyber nationalism.”
She said: “As Chinese citizens (including overseas Chinese students) have become increasingly nationalistic, this movement has taken on a shape of its own. And that’s going to be something for the international community to reckon with in the years to come.”
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